The Savill Garden is a stone’s throw from the hectic M25 and yet feels far removed from the suburban gentrification of nearby Virginia Water. Accessed via a narrow lane, the expansive car park comes as something of a surprise, with flags a-flutter and swooping pavilion beyond. The pavilion, built in 2006 from larch and oak compliments the garden and offers an exciting refreshment opportunity – more about that later! Entrance to the garden is free in the winter months but visitors have to pay to park. This is certainly a well-thought out garden, the winter planting makes a showy first impression and leads the visitor around the garden to explore further.
Part of the Crown Estate and created in the 1930s by Sir Eric Savill, the garden comprises 35 acres of flowing interconnected areas that include a great deal of winter colour. The silver birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’ makes a dramatic impact with pale trunks and branches standing out against the backdrop of the velvety dark lake. A band of fiery Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’ is planted beside the water where in summer, the giant rhubarb-like Gunnera manicata grows prolifically but in winter they are tucked into their blanket of leaves for protection.
The path winds through scented Mahonia, bright orange and red Cornus (dogwood) and zingy citrusy coloured grasses towards the New Zealand Garden where blocks of textured plantings reflect the colour and variety of the striking flora found in New Zealand. It could have been any season of the year amongst the towering foliage here.
There was still a lot of autumn colour hanging on at the time of our visit (early December) and it was lovely to see the dark tree silhouettes still wearing their golden halos. In winter, the structure of the trees really come into their own and I was struck by the number of specimens with decorative bark. I spotted a prunus with peeling layers of mahogany-coloured bark and another with seemingly stripey layers. Another tree, Podocarpus salignus , its drooping branches with willow-shaped leaves providing the perfect hide-and-seek opportunity for visiting children and kid-ults alike. Someone else also enjoying the tree canopy was a very noisy flock of parakeets. These birds have established themselves in the South East and were shockingly loud! I wonder whether they are deemed a nuisance as their numbers have increased so dramatically. Is there an impact on garden birds, I wonder due to these screechy invaders?
We wandered on towards the summer gardens – not much to see here (some might think) but you would be wrong! The bare bones of the garden design are laid out before you – great inspiration if you are planning a garden yourself. The grasses in the dry garden would, I imagine look ethereal with a dusting of frost. The Rose Garden, designed by Andrew Wilson features a contemporary spiral cantilevered walkway, the summit being much like the bow of a ship (think Leonardo de Caprio and Kate Winslet on the front of the Titanic). The structure provides a great platform from which to view the roses beneath – obviously none flowering in December but instead it gave visiting children the opportunity to race up and down the walkway and around the paths of the rose garden beneath.
I really liked the enormous brick wall bordering the rose garden. Studded with alpine troughs and with still-flowering Nerines in the beds, the wall ends with an L shaped flourish and an antique lead water trough and spout. Oh to have one of these in my garden!!
The nearby Queen Elizabeth Temperate House is a much less showy glasshouse than you might find at neighbouring Kew or Wisley. A metal walkway (approached via a spiral staircase bearing a warning that the structure wobbles as you climb it) gives a birds-eye view of the Dicksonia antarctica (tree ferns) beneath. I adore ferns of any sort and tree ferns are a particular favourite; it was super to see such tall healthy specimens, especially from above.
Next, a quick walk around the perimeter of the garden, firstly taking in the Golden Jubilee Garden, enclosed within the high walls of yew (Taxus baccata) with its inner circle of box hedging. The beds were bare and the water-sculpture fountain silent, lending a quiet stillness amongst the formality.
Finally – the hellebores! If you are looking for hellebore inspiration, let the Savill Garden be your guide. There is a huge selection planted en-masse here – a couple are photographed below. And last but not least, back to the café and shop in the pavilion. An enormous wood-fired pizza oven is a good enough reason to linger here for lunch or early supper and I am very pleased to report that the pizzas are absolutely first class. There’s a gift shop too and with children’s activities on offer it really is a garden for all ages.